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CeBIT 2011: diversify or die

This year's CeBIT may have got off to a slow start - and had a few transport-related hiccoughs near the end - but it's been an impressive showing from technology companies nevertheless. We take a look at some of the themes running through this year's event.

The most obvious theme is, of course, tablets. While there weren't all that many new products on display - with the majority of technology out on the show floor having already done the rounds of the Consumer Electronics Show or Mobile World Congress - there was certainly an impressive volume of devices.

Points go to Asus for not jumping on the 'me-too' bandwagon and actually attempting to innovate with its Eee Pad Transformer and Eee Pad MeMO designs. While they're Android-based tablets at heart, both attempt to bring something a little bit unique to the table - and for that, the company deserves recognition.

With so many tablets on display, it's easy to miss the real message to come out of this year's event: diversification. Almost every company present had at least one product on display which was outside its traditional core competency, and in some cases the majority of their stands were non-traditional devices.

The perfect example of this trend comes from what once would have been called graphics card specialist Sapphire, which has been demonstrating to thinq_ its commitment to branching out into motherboards for desktops and small form-factor systems as well as building entire computers of its own such as the upcoming Atom-powered Edge-HD mini PC.

It's not just Sapphire, however: companies such as Asus, with its Wavi Xtion casual gaming controller, OCZ, with its ever-increasing range of solid-state storage devices in every imaginable form factor and interface type, and CoolerMaster's consumer-oriented Choiix brand are all joining in on the diversification fun.

It's not difficult to guess why: with margins tightening on most electronic gear, companies that rely on a single product line are risking all - and with the cost of entry for the tablet market so low, even companies that wouldn't normally be seen anywhere near CeBIT suddenly have a stand: clothing brand Pierre Cardin, for example, was seen pushing its new 7-inch and 10-inch Android tablets.

Attendance was a mixed bag this year, we're told, and while we don't have official figures the show certainly got off to a slow start. This did pick up, although a train drivers' strike caused a few more heartaches towards the end of the event, but having talked to exhibitors there's an interesting disparity in reports: those situated in the Planet Reseller area, which was roped off from the public areas and only available to the movers and shakers of the IT world, reported far better visitor numbers to their stands.

At least one company located in Planet Reseller told us that it was "the best CeBIT ever," which contrasts markedly with comments about the show being slow and attendance low from other corners of the show's many stadia.

While we're waiting for official attendance figures from the event's organisers, one thing is clear: CeBIT certainly isn't going anywhere just yet, and next year's event, running from the 6th to the 10th of March 2012, will be one to mark on your calendars.